tv World War II Veterans Stories CSPAN November 11, 2016 11:15am-12:46pm EST
up next on american history tv, a panel of four veterans discuss their lives in the u.s. military and combat experiences. participants include the those from the battle of the bulge, and a fighter pilot with tuskegee air men. this event took place in arlington, virginia, and was part of a conference of the group friends of the world war ii memorial. it's about an hour and a half. >> ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us for this panel discussion this morning as we get ready to talk to some of our most treasured american heros with, our veterans of world war ii. and we thank them for joining us this morning. my name is mike hydeck. i'm honored to be here with friends of the world war ii memorial. and the foundation. i'm the morning anchor at wusa
channel 9 here in washington, d.c. and the gold of this discussion is to hopefully share some of their most personal stories from our greatest generation. the thought being their emotional first-person accounts can help galvanize the stories of worlder war two for you as teachers and students head back to the classroom and you can enhance your lessons, hopefully, and had a more personal understanding of what these gentlemen and their come patriots have gone through to make it here today. we know that the gentlemen sitting here in front of us and the is other events we do honoring world war ii veterans, we have a short time to connect with them and understand they made it through one of the most horrific experiences in the world history. it's amazing that they're sitting here with us today. we also want to make sure that everyone in the audience has a chance to participate and ask questions of their own, that you'll find valuable in your classrooms and for your.
and when you ask them, i will probably step forward to make sure i can hear you properly, repeat the question so the audience can hear and the c-span audience can hear and our honorees can hear, as well. so let's introduce our panel. first, to my left, in the handsome red blazer, charles mcgee, one of the tuskegee airmen and a career officer in the united states air force for 30 years. he holds the u.s. air force record, 409 fighter combat missions flown in world war ii, korea and vietnam. and to his left, herman zeitchik, who i met on my very first world war ii event. pleasure to see you, herman. he landed on normandy beach, france, where he and his fellow soldiers endured heavy machine gun tire, extreme bloodshed and
personally witnessed the loss of at least 5,000 troops. to his left, allan wilford howerton. he and i have a bit of a connection. he has a soft spot for broadcasting. it's one of the things he was working on before he got into world war ii. he was in the 84th infantry division. mr. howerton served with company k, 335th infante as a rifleman, messenger, a radio operator, and a communications sergeant. he served both in germany and in bulge yu bul belgium. he's tried his hand as writing, too. on the end, journal james riffe, u.s. army retired. he started in the army as a private and finished as a colonel. 30 years. finished in 1972. he was in the infantry. he commanded a platoon that
invaded the japanese island of okinawa. he attended airborne school, got parachute and airborne glider badges. he commanded an airborne battle group and airborne brigade and was the chief of staff of the 82nd airborne division. before we get started, just a little context. oh, also, by the way, two other people to mention. we also like to recognize here in the audience carol george, seated in the front row there. raise his hand. he wanted to come and by a part of this, so we appreciate him. he was in okinawa and he now lives in falls church, virginia. he's with the u.s. coast guard, served on a battleship, as well. and we also, so you know we invited barbara martin from the women's medical corps. she had to cancel her appearance, but we want to have her in our next event but we want to recognize her and the fact that she committed to being here today but had to back out at the last minute. so before we get started, just so set a little context, let's
talk 234bs here. 1939 to 1945, we were in the midst of great depression and the allied forces, including the united states and britain and others fought against the forces of germany and japan and others. battle fronts all over the world. these gentlemen were teenagers, 20 somethings, similar ages to our high school and college students now that we talk to a o a regular basis.. both my reportinging as an education reporter, u.s. teachers and students. they left college. they skipped out of high school. they lied on their application saying they were 18 getting ready to go and serve. that's how much it meant to these gentlemen and how many other people who did the same thing. these 20 somethings and teenagers were killed and did killing. 60 million dead over world war
ii. some say it's upwards of 80 million dead overall. the stories of survival are legendary as they faced down tyranny, these gentlemen did. we want to thank you them for their service and hear their personal stories and try to put it into context of the students who we know today to try to help them understand that they were their age when they decided to take this on for the fate of the world as we know it. and that's not overstating it. if we could, i would like to start. the first question, and please, by all means, raise your hand and i would love to jump into the audience and raise questions so we can make this valuable for you. we want you to have a take away for you today. let's start with mr. mcgee. as a tuskegee airman, nowadays when you are greeted in person, you're considered a national hero. you are told so much to your face and we appreciate your
service and we want to continue to tell that. initially when you started and you decided i'm going to go for this career, how were you treated initially? was your race a major factor? did they just need so many people who had the guts and the determination to help save our nation in the world? how were your first days in the military? >> well, race, indeed, was a factor. also the experience that i have, the early years all through the end of the war and still the united states air force operated from the ground forces. there was segregation, but it begins with a 1925 war college study determining how this one-depth of the population now called black would be used if america got involved in another
war. paragraph 4 of their reports, fact bearing on the problem. physically qualified, yes. mentally inferior, morally inferior. in other words, second class citizen, if you will. that report came to washington to say yes, use in service roles. dig ditches, build roads, fine. do anything technical? impossible. so that was the attitude and washington bought that as far as policy was concerns. so when world war ii broke out, civilian pilot training program was established to have pilots for our military units. initially didn't include black college but it subsequently did. but there, graduate from howard universi university's program here in the
washington area. i went in and said i want to be an army pilot. the army said we don't have any black mechanics, so we can't use a black pilot. also, there was a young man who graduated from west point in '36, benjamin o. davis jr., who when he graduated pretty well up in his class, but segregated through his training years said he wanted to be a pilot and they said, sorry, they don't have any black aviation units. so he was denied that. so it took world war ii action in our country willing to help our allies in europe and pressure was it the aurm said, well, we know it will fail, but you keep pressing us, we'll authorize a squadron, be glad to
talk on that as we go down the line. but segregation was the name of the game. segregation went overseas, came back home, it took our united states air force to make a decision. >> in your biography, it says you have a record of 409 combat missions, which means over time i would think that attitude started to change and you started to be considered a valuable member is, an effective fighter pilot. when did you start to notice the tenor of communications with you and added responsibilities? when in your military career did that start to change where you started to get more respect? >> that is interesting and you didn't want me to lukt temperature for 20 minutes. >> so what you're saying is you have plenty to tell. >> but what happened was the air
force ended segregation here in the states in jump of 1949. we were shattered around the world. i received assignments overseas that i would not get here at home. and, in other words, lockbourne air base training had closed in '46. it was a segregated base near columbus, ohio, now ricken backer for those that know the history. and when that base closed, that was july of '49. i became commander of richards air base in the 1840th air base win in june of 1972. first such level assignment in the states from the end of segregation. >> wow. >> so change came very slowly. we received assignments overseas we would not get here at home. i commanded a fighter squadron for two wreers in the
philippines. i commanded a fighter squadron in vietnam, reconnaissance squadron. was in the cold war. we hadn't even gotten credit for the cold war because we didn't fire anything. but, again, commanded units during that deployment against russia. change came very slowly. that's something to understand. the value lessons that sustained us in those days are just as important for those young people today who are america's tomorrow and they need to uvend that. >> mr. zeitchik, utah beach, normandy, france, how old were you? >> 18. >> did you enlist at 18 and immediately get sent there when you got started? what was your -- were you drafted, first of all.? or did you enlist?
i went to the local post office with my dad and they gave us a number. sure enough, that number came up very quickly. from there, we reported to ft. dix, new jersey. >> before you go, what was the conversation like in your household? how did your family respond as soon as you found out you were drafted that quickly? did you have a conversation and say, look, this is your duty, you have to go? >> well -- >> did your mom and dad get upset? were they supportive.? >> they were sorry to see me go. didn't want me to go. but it's either register at the post office or i guess luck out.. no choice.
>> were you scared? >> no, i wasn't scared because i was a boy scout. and -- and it was used to going out, sleeping overnight, spending time in the woods. >> there isn't artillery fire in the boy scouts. he were very brave, sir. >> and then after training, the most important thing i can tell you is i happened to take a course in typing. and everything in the army is typed. everything is typed. nothing handwritten. so there can be no errors.
a and. because of that, they sent me to ft. bragg, north carolina, home of the 102nd airborne. there, the train iing put me in a howitzer unit, 105. it's a big gun, the kind that the president used fourth of july here. and them after the training, they sent me overseas to engl d england, spent training in england and finally they put me into the fourth infantry
division can artillery. with that, i did well. you learn a lot about fighting and the next thing we knew it, the few short months flew by and we were on a ship heading for utah beach. landed a normandy on "d" day, h-hour. that day, they tell me that we lost 5,000 boys first day, first -- >> what time of day was that? >> friday morning. >> and describe what it sounded like. what does it did it sound like that morning, do you remember? what were the sounds?
was there a lot of artillery fire when you landed? was it quite the moment you landed? what did it sound like? >> i'm sorry? >> what were the sounds like? >> what were the sounds like that morning when you landed on the beach sthp what did you hear? >> oh, across the english channel, it's only about 23 miles. rather quickly because there must have been about 500 shis. we weren't the only ones. on the invasion. but it so happened there were two points to go in and ours happened to be utah. we landed there just as the light was starting to come in. and then we -- i'm sorry.
>> continue, please. >> absolutely. mr. hourererton -- i'm going to on let you collect yourself, mr. zeitchik, and i'll ask the question again in a moment. mr. howerton one started your college career, started your education and some of it was interrupted. that's how you got in. so how old were you when you started in the service and describe what led to you getting into the service. >> well, all our our experiences are unique. i grew up in western kentucky. in the 1920s and 30s. a very deprived area at that time. there was no tv aid. so i grew up in a pretty
deprived area. but i was a book worm kid and the schools down there must have been very, very good at the time because i think i got an excellent education at a small high school. i was an academic inclined at that time. i finished the second in my class, but there was no money for college. so i wanted to get out of the house and i wanted to make some money and try to figure out how to get an education. i was 17 years old, brought gra from college, turning 18. so i ended up in, of all places, northern new jersey working for white castle system incorporated. you all know what white castle system is, i'm sure. >> hamburgers. >> one of the great original restaurant chains. i was able to live on $18.50 a week and i was able to audition
and get he rolled in a radio broadcasting school within the vicinity of radio city. so when i was not flipping hamburgers or working on curb service at white castle, i was reading soap opera scripts and learn to go be a radio actor and radio announcer which was my interest at the time. so pearl harbor came along. i had worked saturday night, woke up sunday morning maybe at noon or 2:00 in the afternoon, turned on the radio next to my bed and learned about pearl harbor. well, i didn't enlist at the time. he was patriotic, but i didn't enlist. i was waiting around to see what really was going to happen. so while i was waiting, they
lowered the draft age from 20 down to 18 and so in february of 1943, i got the greeting. greetings, you have selected. so -- >> for the infantry. >> huh? >> in the infantry. >> well, no, i was at ft. dix. i entered at ft. dix, new jersey, took a bunch of tests. ended up training as a medic in virginia. i had no interest in medicine, but they needed medic trainees at the time, so you, you and you become medics. when i finished there at the end of 910 days, basic training, except medics didn't get any weapons training. so when i finished, i was called in to the cp one day. i was expecting to get an assignments overseas somewhere as a combat medic.
instead, there was a were corporal sitting behind the desk. he said, howerton, you have to make a choice. well, i looked at him and i said, i can't believe it. the army is going to give me a choice or some smart aleck remark like that and he said, yes. he said, you can go to medical administration ocs, officer candidate school, or you can go to the astp. so -- >> which is? >> which is -- that was my next question. >> what is that act row minute? >> what is the astp, corporal? he said, i don't know. he fumbled in his desk and pulled the out a brochure, handed it to me and then i knew what it was because i knew that there was a college program. this is called the army
specialized training program. the army put about 200,000 young men into american colleges across the country. the idea was to develop a trained cadre to go overseas and rebuild whatever was being torn down during the war. we were studying engineering and various other things like that. i learned later in doing some research on that book i wrote that there was another reason the university presidents were raising cane with the defense department because the colleges were -- some of them.were going bankrupt. they were depleted. so -- >> they were taking all their college students and their prospective students. >> so we became college students and so i ended up at the drexel institute of technology studying engineering. i had no interest in
engineering. i was interested in history and english and social science and those kinds of academic things. but you get pretty good grades by lisping to what was being said and boning up on tests, so i was able to get pretty good grades there. well, right at the -- after the first nine months in april 1944, the army decided because of severe manpower shortage, a problem with the invasion and so on, 1943, i mean, with the invasion coming up that they really needed troops. so they made a decision to break up that program halfway through. well, we had not a stripe on our shoulders, so we ended up on the troops ring, 2800 men from
northeastern schools. among them was henry kissinger, by the way. >> no kidding? teachers and students, imagine this, a train pulling up and saying, you're 18, get on that train. we're sending you off to training right now. imagine that happening today. never. never. and imagine how -- we were joking beforehand, right? i said you were like cattle. and you said -- highly educated cattle. >> we were cattle and cadets, cadets without any stripes. so we end up on this troop train. so we go down to louisiana and late at night when we finally detrained, stay in your seats until your name is called, get out on the platform, follow a sergeant into your company. so here i am out on a platform, all my friends let me tell on the train. i have no idea how they selected people. at random, i presume.
so we marched through our bare ac barracks late at night. the next morning, stood formation. here was a very competent first sergeant out there, a drill sergeant, typical world war ii drill sergeants. he was from georgia and he had a wonderful accent. so he stood out in front of the company and he says, y'all men here.. you know you're not supposed to move your heads in my company. however, you can move your eyeballs around if you wish. but don't move your heads. but when you move your eyeballs, you're going to see something here. you heard about these here young men, these college students coming down the hill to help us win this war and we're going overseas. well, they're right in here among us and you can tell them because they look like they haven't had no sun in six months.
that was my entrance into the infantry. >> let's get over to current riffe. that's a great story. i love that story. colonel riffe, you had a varied experience when you started in the service as an army pilot and you finished as a colonel, over 30 years. you had a chance to see all different sides of the service. how old were you when you first saw combat and what was that like? >> well, i was 21 years old when i first saw combat. it was on the island of okinawa, which was the last battle of world war ii and it was the bloodiest battle in the pacific, particularly for the navy. i was entering the service in august of 42 as a private by.
by december, i was a staff sergeant based on my previous military experience with rotc and a program at that time called citizens military training camps, which most of you probably never heard of, but if you attended that camp for four summers, you get commissioned as a second lieutenant. the program was terminated in 1940 because the military bases were being used for the training of national guard folks. i was a staff sergeant when i was ordered to go to ft. benning, georgia, to attend the infantry officer's training school and i graduated there in march of 1943 as a second lieutenant. my first assignment was as a student at an officer's school in california. the school's mission was to train company grade service for assignments in the pacific theater. after the one-month course, i was selected as instructor where
i stayed for a year. after that, i was sent to the pacific. first on the island of new caladonia. i was there for a short time and went to new haberdies. ended up on an island where i joined the 27th division and that began my real military career as a first lieutenant infantry platoon leader. >> in the infantry, what were you responsible for doing when you were in position? >> well, you were the leader of an inif a tri platoon, which consisted of three squads, 12 men in each squad. each one with a staff sergeant. then there was the blah too many toon headquarters for -- there was a platoon sergeant and there was a 3.2 bazooka team, which
was two people. so about 40 people led by a lieutenant. >> a bazooka shell is how big? >> what is that? >> a bazooka shell is how big? >> 22.36, one of the first bazookas they had in world war ii. it was a small -- >> how big of a hole could a bazooka put in this wall? what kind of damage does that weapon do? >> it had a range of about 75 to a hundred yards. and it would destroy a machine gun nest. it would destroy a mortar position. but it didn't have much penetrating power. i suppose -- of course, on okinawa, there was nothing to pen straight except and mountains and holes and things like that. we did use it particularly if we knew where a machine gun was located or with we saw a hole we
would train the bazooka on that hold to destroy it. as a platoon leader, you're responsible for leading your men into ground combat. and the motto for a lieutenant was follow he. and i think that's why i survived the military combat, because i was always leading up front. i was normally have maybe one or two scouts in front, maybe a b.a.r. team, and the rest of the blah too many toon i would leave behind on the command of the platoon sergeant until we contacted the enemy. of course, you always have plans as to what you're going to do, but when you contact the enemy, then you have to make new plans. you have to be very flexible because you can't anticipate exactly what you're going to run into. how many people, what kind of guns they have, where are they
located, the artillery, the mortar. so i was wounded, but -- and i started out with 29 men and thr three weeks there were nine of us left. of the 20 who were evacuated, seven were killed and 13 were wounded. so out of a platoon, i started with 29 in three weeks there was nine of us because 13 had either been wounded or killed. >> so now you're in your early 20s, coming from home and doing all of this training. how did seeing all that death so quickly affect you emotionally? >> well, it's something you never forget. to me, it was like it happened yesterday. >> even now? even now you feel that? >> i beg your part? >> even now you feel as if it happened yesterday? >> this is the first time i have ever talked about oak mow what
i've been invited by the history club of fairfax county. the history club of arlington, virginia, to talk about my experiences in world war ii. but this is the first time invited by holly rotunda, the memorial friends. but everything happens like it was yesterday. >> yep. >> yesterday. yeah, you never lose it and it's -- >> does it still hurt? do you still cry? do you still have nightmares? what is your life like when you recall it? do you try to put it out of your mind? >> i am very sad and i don't want to talk. my wife often asks me, jim, what's wrong? and i say, well, i'll be okay. but i think people who are here will -- can also confirm that it's an experience that lives with you forever. the biggest problem i was, of
the seven men under my direct control who got killed and the 13 who were seriously wounded and evacuated is to what happened to them and what happened to their families. and you know when you're up front and a man this close to you is killed and you can hear the bullets going by your head and the next man is killed and you can hear the bullets but you survived, you've always asked why not me? and to this day i don't know why i survive that and became a citizen of my country. serve in the army for the lower 30 years of their wonderful challenging experiences.
and i'd be happy to answer any questions. my experiences in world war ii. >> so now that we've had a chance to go across the board, does anybody have questions they'd like to ask? yes, sir. >> young men that went into the army -- as they road into the army, would you all see your life -- >> the question was that as young men going into the army now as you plolook back, could envision your life in any other way? >> not with the war declared. >> not with the war declared. you felt a sense of duty and you had to do it? herman, would you envision your plief life than any other way than going into the service. >> i didn't hear consider it by this other way.
worried about that. but i did want to say one thing, it was a bad war, world war ii was a bad war, especially malmedy. i don't know whether you people remember malmedy. we had a company of soldiers, young soldiers that were surround surrounded, the officers surround surround surrendered. they marched the soldiers off to a field, there were trucks german trucks, this was the winter of '44, it was the worst
winter europe had and i was part of the group that went out and happened to see everything and it was frightening, absolutely frightening. then another place we went to, the germans had confiscated all the art work, hid it in caves, mountains and we found some of the caves art in crates that they were sending back to germany.
and then there was the battle of the bulge which the germans tried to push the american troop s and get to the gasoline and oil that they needed but we wouldn't let them. i think the battle of the bulge was the final big battle of world war ii. another first was the liberation of paris which was great. french people woke up in the
mo morning and found the american trucks sitting on a main thoroughfare and there where we were they brought down their whatever food, flowers and just want to do everything with us, i have pictures of all my happenin happenings. >> as we listen to you talk we can see in your eyes that you'ring a a.you're ing accessing those memories and it's probably very, very clear. would you change anything, you wanted to be a broadcaster, you thought you were going to be an economist, then you're in the war. looking back, if you could have, would you have done something different? >> i'm sorry, if i could have,
what? >> would you have chosen a different path? >> that's a hard question to ask. i suppose so, i think, yeah, i would have chosen a different path but i would like to say this in response to the quest n question, i actually was in the war twice. in the '90s i gathered up all the records of my company because i really didn't know what had gone on there. so i wanted to find out what really happened. i got the records together and i set up a database and looked for my 72 men serving in company k during six months of combat, company k was less than 200. >> you can see the turnover, you explained it very, very well. we had similar experiences.
so i wrote a book took me years and years to do it but it went back through the war again day by day, the book is called "dear captain, the agonies and ecstasies of war in the memory." so in one regard the young man who fought the war in a sense is actually not sitting here today. why is that? because after going through it a second time this young fella seemed like somebody else, not me. and i've recommended to world war ii veterans that they don't have to necessary publish a book, but write down the experiences, put it down on paper. when you do that, you see
perspectives that you never knew that you had when you have to write something. so words very, very important. i have the memory of it, sure, but by going through that a second time i purged an awful lot of the terrible memories that we all had coming back and i have tried to tell the story in a very, very objective way and i documented every casualty. and we had 41 men killed in action, more than 100 wounded and evacuated for various other reasons, 90 men captured. most of those people came home but every once in a while you hear a story about someone in that group who did not. i learned just last week through
web sites i have that and i used to research world war ii that one of those men who was captured at the first battle in the siegfried line had died in prison camp. i didn't know that. so it goes on. the knowledge, the research, and the -- so you remember it but you put it behind you if you can. i think i was reasonably successful in doing that, but it took years after the war. >> and you mentioned that you realized you did suffer post-traumatic stress but it just wasn't called that back then. both mr. mcgee and colonel riffy, you chose to make the service your career. you could have gotten out. you went through everything you went through, the pain, seeing people killed, being in the middle of combat, you chose to stay in. i'll start with you mr. mcgee, why? why did you stay in as long as
you did? >> well, i had planned when i was in college to be a teacher because i was very fond of my high school teachers and i went to a very small high school in southern west virginia where a teacher, as i recall teacher coaches, they would teach classes in the morning and they would coach in the afternoon and i experienced three years of that with the same coach and i admired him. and i went to college with that in mind. and then the japanese bombed pearl harbor and of course that changed not only my life but the life of practically all americans. one thing i do want to say about world war ii and that period. i believe it's the only time in the history of our country when
we were completely united. i don't think we've been united before that, and we haven't been united since. everybody that i knew and heard of and saw and met, they were behind the united states and defeating the nazis in europe and the japanese in the pacific. and if you go to a restaurant, probably they wouldn't charge you for your meal. if you road a taxi they wouldn't charge you, if you went to hitchhiking, which we all did, if there was room in a car they'd never pass you up. so what i remember the good thing i remember about world war ii is the unity of america, our hope that in my lifetime i would like to see that again. i'm not very enthusiastic that i will but that's my hope and
prayer. >> and mr. mcgee, why did you choose to stay in the military? >> well, there are a couple of reasons why i stayed. i was called in to go to cadet training with this two years of college so i hadn't set that course although i was in engineering and i did like flying, training was good and although i fortunately came through combat all right in the late '50s, i was kind of interested in getting into commercial aviation but at that time the airlines weren't hiring blacks or women. >> that was the only place you could fly. >> so i -- because i enjoyed the flying i stayed in the service and ended up as you have said. but it was doing something i enjoyed. i couldn't have written a script for better opportunities that i ended up with, although i didn't know that in front but it also prepared me and one other thing
i would say because of service and education was mentioned earlier, i was able later to go on and get a college degree because of what the service offered. and that served me in post-service career time. but it was the circumstances that caused me to stay in for a career. and as i'd like to pass on to young folks today, i hope you find something you like doing, although i wasn't for fighting, it turned out to be part of the experience but the fact that i loved aviation, it's hard to tell somebody what it's like to be able to get in the air and to loop roll and spin and come back and put your feet on the ground. [ laughter ] and the other side of it was to be able to fly a plane at 40,000 feet taking off at sunset, see the sunset again, see the stars come out, make you realize we
individuals are just one small aspect in a mighty grand universe. >> it provided by an amazing opportunity for you to grow and learn and what an amazing career. any more questions from the audience? yes, sir? >> first of all, i'd like to say thank you to all of you gentlemen. you guys have the right stuff. my question is for colonel dr. mcgee. every black pilot in the cockpit, whether the military or the commercial industry are standing on the shoulders of you guys and particularly what's going on in society today. i want to ask you this question. at the time, did you have any idea of the impact that you would ultimately have on the lives of those who came after you? >> did you have any idea of the impact you would have on the lives of those who came after
you, mr. mcgee? >> i would say not at all. [ laughter ] it was mentioned earlier, countries came out of ten years of depression when war was declared. everybody -- it was mentioned, the country came together behind that act. the jobs that were now available, you can talk about a car in every port and it was a different time. the country came together because of what was going on in europe and what hitler had done and so even though there was segregation, again, it was america. our country, willing to put our lives on the line as well as anybody else for the freedoms that we enjoyed. we say freedoms we enjoy, we don't all enjoy all of them in the same way or even to the same extent but it's still america when you look at what's going on around the world.
>> thank you, very much. i, too, am in awe of the service. but i tell you, i'm very interested in knowing your perspective on military service given what's going on today and the opportunities the military should offer young people. if young people are the audience that we're going to be using in these lectures, i think you have something special to say about education, youth, commitment to the country and as it pertains in today's context and what i'm also impressed about is that it appears it's a question that you obviously have been thinking about also. thank you. >> your impression of the military, its value to young people, and how it can play in their lives. >> today. >> today. how it can play in their lives today. >> well, i really wish we had everybody serve two years and then go about their business supporting our country and
whatever you want. then we would haven't the problem that we have faced with military. we've made it a problem because it's voluntary and what we have to take care of the soldiers when they return. but the future of our country requires those who will take that step. very quickly, i'd put for you teachers and so on, get the kids four ps -- perceive, dream your drove but find your talents to support the country. prepare, get the education. you'll learn to read, write, and speak well as well as develop your talents. perform, let excellence be a goal in everything. we're talk about kids being bullied and so on. let excellence be your goal
treating others as you want to be treated. and finally, persevere. don't let the circumstances be the excuse for not achieving. it's too much of that going on. >> mr. howard? >> one of the things i would like to say about that question is that i think one of the great things that happened in mobilization for world war ii was the selective service system. i say this because it brought together men from all walks of life. and one company, my company, in the 84th infantry division we had illiterates, we had people who had graduate degrees. we would never have crossed these open's path except for the selective service system. we learned a lot about each other. now, i know that the volunteer
army is about the only thing we can do in today's situation where you don't need masses of people but i do think we have a problem in that there's clearly unequal sacrifice when it comes to military service. i have always favored for most of my life some sort of a universal service requirement and supported various schemes along that line. so far none of it has come to pass, one of which would be a military option. but i think the phrase you so often, thank you for your service is somewhat of a guilt complex. but my perceptions but is that when we came back from world war
ii, that phrase was strange to us "thank you for your service." everybody was in the service of the country in one way or the another. and i quibble with the term greatest generation, i'm not sure that was much more than an excellent marketing slogan for brokaw's book. i have come to term with it and i accept it, i think, only if we include those t whole country. as you said. the countryunbelievably unified. it did it -- it happened in an instant but it stayed right on through the war. and how we get that again none of us here in this audience can say today, certainly i can't.
but the unity was the great thing during world war ii. >> my grandfather used to tell me -- and this could translate to some students -- prior to seeing the movie you would see a newsreel regarding the war and it would say "please don't buy canned food, we need to ship it to the soldiers." it would be general public items, things you do everyday would help the entire war effort so both on the radio movies, everywhere you would see some sort of effort, you are at home but you can pitch in, you don't see that anymore. >> you were welcomed home as the troops are today i'll tell you a humorous story. we were on a troupe ship going out of a new york harbor and when the convoy was making up outside new york harbor we had a collision with a tanker and so knocked the whole bow of the hms
is "sterling castle" and we went back in the next morning. well, when we came back into the port, same port we'd left from, we were considered to be returning soldiers because -- [ laughter ] returning soldiers were beginning to come home. [ laughter ] so on the ferries coming across new york harbor we were waved and everybody was yelling "bravo, bravo" [ laughter ] and we'd been gone 24 hours. [ laughter ] and the bands were playing, people were passing out doughnuts and coffee and we were welcomed home. i didn't hear anybody say "thank you for your service" but they said "we're glad to see you back, fella." [ laughter ] ten days later we went out again. >> colonel how important it is
to help today's youth understand how we need our military and what can we do to help them understand the sacrifice that you all have made, the millions have made is something that can play into their lives now today. >> how as our attendee decided, how can we stretch to high school students, college students, how the military can play a role in their lives. you chose it as a career. it's still an option for a career today. is that important to impart, do you think? i was asking -- i'm sorry, i was asking can colonel riffe. >> i believe that there should be some kind of universal service. today only about 1% of americans are serving in the military forces.
i believe we could unify our country again if all people, ladies and gentlemen, would have to perform some type of service for our country. it necessarily doesn't have to be in the military but some positions, some organization that supports america and our values and i believe that would also help us unify because today we are not a unified country, unfortunately, and, of course, we are seeing the conventions for the republican nominations and next week for the democratic nominations and according to what i see on television there's a great divide between those who claim to be republicans and
those who claim to be democrats. it appears to me, unfortunately, that many politicians have put party above country. country should come first. party should come second. but i don't see that today. [ applause ] i don't know the extent of americans in uniform today and of course we're still in afghanistan. we're going to stay there for quite a while. we're sending more troops to iraq, we've got troops in jordan and we've got military personnel practically all over the world. i get a map once a week showing the location of all military personnel and we have military personnel of all the the branch truly serving in probably 35 or 40 countries in the world today.
but i was at fort bragg, i was a paratrooper for 25 years and a member of the 82nd airborne division as a major, a lieutenant colonel and a colonel so it was a great opportunity for people who serve in the airborne to get together. and while i was there i got a call from the japanese televisi television, they had first in april they had come to my home with a television camera and they asked me questions and i thought they were going to talk about the pacific world war ii but they were only interested in talking about secretary kerry's visit to hiroshima and later on when i was in fort bragg on a telephone call i didn't know it
but president obama had also visit visited hiroshima and i told the japanese television that in no case should an official of the united states government go to hiroshima because i felt the japanese would consider it as an apology for two bombs we dropped f for. have i answered your question? >> that was a wonderful answer. >> i have two questions, one's for jim and the second question would be for all of y'all. jim, i know that battle of okinawa was fierce, there were 24 medal of honor winners on okinawa and i just met with the the 96th infantry division. can you tell me in your unit how many medal of honor winners, how many distinguished service crosses, how many silver stars
and how many bronze stars and purple hearts if you could. >> well, all i can tell you is i had two of my squad leaders recommended for the silver star and about seven of eight of the members of my platoon are recommended for the bronze star medal what would happen for example if you get a silver star, you go through your battalion, regiment and for myself i was recommended for the silver star, for a battle in which the entire battalion was pinned down and they asked me to go around the flank and see if i could find the enemy's flank and destroy them.
we conquered the battalion objective with one rifle platoon and i was recommended for the silver star for that and it was downgraded to a bronze star, i got two bronze star. that's all i have information about. i don't know. there were several people who got the medal of honor. and they got the distinguished service crosses and the silver stars that i was recommended for, two of my squad leaders, i don't know whether they received them or not because they were both wounded and evacuated so i don't know what happened to their recommendation. i do know that i should have recommend recommend recommended more for the bronze
star because we were fighting to retake congress suh ridge. we took it once, we gave it up, we had to take it again. i was leading a platoon, i had two scouts in front, we ran into a japanese strong position. he was killed immediately. the br man was seriously wounded in his leg and i could hear him and i crawled up to see what i could do for him. somewhere or other the platoon medic which was back in a draw heard about it and he came rushing up and he was -- he reached in his bag to get a bandage to put on the -- the br man's leg and as he was doing that he got killed. is so i only recommended him for
the bronze star. but in looking back, he gave his life to try to save another man and somewhere along the way i believe that whoever read the recommendation somewhere along the way looking back now i believe they should have upgraded to at least silver star or distinguished service cross because here's a man who was treating a wounded man came out under fire, gave his life and today i know that today he would probably get the medal of honor but things were different in world war ii. >> my second question, this is to all of y'all, if harry truman was here today standing here or in the audience, what would you say to him? >> what would you say to harry truman if he were in the audience today? >> well, i'd like to answer that. [ laughter ] >> he's on a roll.
>> harry truman made one of the most important decisions in the history of our country when he authorized the atomic bomb of japan. first of all, the sixth of august they bombed -- dropped a bomb on hiroshima. the death toll was anywhere from 120,000 to 170,000, 140,000. that did not convince the japanese to surrender unconditionally so on the ninth of august the president authorized dropping of the second atomic bomb on nagasaki. and the death toll there was about half of what they had said it was in hiroshima, around 70,000. there are people even today who say that those atomic bombs
saved lives. saved lives. because we had planned to invade japan in november of 1945 on the island of kyushu and then the spring of '46 we were going to invade tokyo, honshu. it was estimated that that invasion would cost 150,000 american lives and it would cost 10 million japanese lives so on that basis people are saying okay, so atomic weapons killed say 240,000 people but if we invaded japan we'd have killed 10 million japanese. so i believe that president truman by authorizing the use of the atomic bomb saved hundreds and hundreds of thousands of
lives both american and japanese. another thing which some of you may not know about was the military, the army particularly was segregated. in other words i served during world war ii and in my division i never saw a negro soldier. i never saw one. and as the war went on and on, in 1948 president truman said we're going to quit the segregation of the military and we're going to put all the people together and so president truman is the one who said we will no longer have segregation of military services is, we'll put all people together. at that time i was commanding an infantry of rifle company in salzburgs a tree y s austria, w
quartermaster company that was all negroes, all black, and i called my friends together, many of them from the south and i said we're going to get black soldiers and they're americans and they'll be treated just like anybody else. so i made sure when we got three back soldiers to my rifle company that we had a special welcome for them. a special welcome for them and we were integrated in and they were just like -- we were all together, all americans. unfortunately i look back today and i cannot understand why america has been segregated for so long, for so very, very long and it's unfortunately today it's -- seems like there are more controversy among the blacks and the whites today and that's very sad. but at least president truman did something when he decided they would there would no longer be a segregated military service. so those are two things i
applaud president truman -- the atomic bombs and ending segregation of the military services. >> mr. howerton? oh, sorry, mr. mcgee, go ahead. >> we owe president truman more than that. he is the president that said "the buck stops here." he issued two executive orders, the force that said we need to integrate because we need to use people based on training and experience where needed not the happenstance of birth and we're not getting enough money to keep bases open segregated and meet our requirements, we need to integrate. 10 months later truman issued two executive orders, 9981 that mandated all of the services' need to integrate. he backed that up, but he also issued 9980. there should be equal access and equal hiring throughout the federal government.
unfortunately even though that executive order was written it hasn't been followed throughout as you know, but truman was a very -- you need to read his history. he was a southerner from southern missouri but he believed in america and what america should be all about. >> mr. howerton? do you have thoughts on president truman as well? >> the only thing i have to add to this, i did receive four bronze clusters and two years ago the french president, french legion of honor made me a chaveret and i think just receiving the medal by the
french government put a high life to my life, thank you. >> mr. howerton? >> what i'd like to say about this is that i, too, saw very few if any black soldiers and you know to me the cultural mix that we had otherwise was great and if i would say anything in response to the question about how can you advise people going in the military today it would be that -- you know, a couple things, first of all they are going to be exposed, thank god, to all americans in the military even with a volunteer army, i think. so another factor about that is that the military will give a
young person a family. a second family. i think we would all agree to that i know in my case those of us in company k with such heavy casualties knew, we knew in our own minds that we may not ever come back. these people were our family. we might never get back to our families so i think that kind of bonding still exists. i think it does, i don't know for sure but i think it does in modern american military units. i think that is very important and i know, ironically, for a few days those of us in my unit coming up from normandy beach well after the fighting but on the truck line that took us to
the war, we were in effect under the command for about three days of black drivers. the bulk of the drivers of those trucks were black drivers, segregated black driver unit but those guys were in command. we listened to what they said. when they said 10-minute break, they meant 10-minute break and we were back in the trucks and if we weren't there they saw to it that we were so that little bit of exposure was great, i came home as a radical civil rights guy growing up in kentucky in the segregated school, that today seems remarkable to me but i did. in college in the forefront of the civil rights movement, an organization that closed the bar near the campus of the university of denver sitting in
one time. that bar went out of business but it started serving black students our comrades in that university so we've come a long way, regardless of the problems we have, we've come a long way, folks, i think. >> one last question before you go, many of the students and the teachers who teach them they talk and they have conversations with them and they try to teach world war ii, they are the age that you were when you enlisted or were drafted. do you have any advice, life advice, moving forward for students that these teachers can impart and for some of the students from prince georges county who are in the audience as they move forward and choose a career in life and their connection to our nation as far as patriotism is concerned? can you import one last thing of advice to them before we leave today? >> well, what i've been saying, i'm not sure i directly answered
the question but as i go around talking to students and schools there's certainly to me a need to include what is taking place in our country. i ask often youngsters who knows what the thrust of one engine on today's 777 commercial airline is. no idea. why aren't you teaching where technology is taking us? technology is taking us way beyond what i flew but our youngsters aren't getting it. how can they take their place so on? so something is wrong in the textbooks you're using or the attitude. i enjoy talking to middle schools most because at least middle school kids listen. [ laughter ] >> present company accepted. >> high schools that's another
story. but to you teachers, hang in there. i know you've got such a challenge and it's too many parents are saying don't -- you know, don't tap my kid. we're missing the boat, folks, for the future of what our youngsters need besides the education complete and all the best to you. >> mr. howerton, any suggestions for our youth? >> i think it's important to remember, for teachers to remember that students today are as far from world war ii as we were from the civil war. >> wow. >> so what did we know about the civil war? not too much when you come right down to it. i heard about skirmishes of forces in little farm communities in western kentucky
but we didn't know much about the civil war in high school so i have a lot of confidence today in today's young people and i think they are curious. i've -- high school groups, particularly that i have talked with i get a couple of reactions, one that i get intensive interest on the part of a few students in the classes. in others they seem to be sleeping. [ laughter ] so i don't know. i think -- i would emphasize to teachers that you're not focused entirely on the military aspects, today every world war ii veteran is a hero to many. well, we know that that's not true. all of us know that that's not
true. we appreciate that but we were not all heroes, we were ordinary young people, good, bad, effective and not but i think the point that jim made is extremely important. the unity of the country that resulted for one reason or another from world war ii is important to teach and what went on on the home front. the wonderful things -- the war was managed -- and i've studied this in economics and political science classes and history but the war to me was managed greatly ingeniously by the administration at that time. the war production act, the mobilization of american industry, the institution of ic controls and rationing, all those things made the home
front what it was and supported the troops serving overseas and so never forget that as teachers. we're not all heroes but there's a lot of heroes on the home front as well. so it's a very hard subject, i think, for you to teach. >> some advice for our y people, mr. zeitchik? would you like to give advice to our young people, our high school students about life? >> well, i'll tell you, when i was discharged i missed my high school graduation. while i was land iing at norman my class was graduating. 70 years later i got a call that
the governor of new jersey wanted me at the high school to present my high school diploma. [ applause ] 70 years later. and i did go there and it was wonderful but i'll tell you i was a musician, i played in the band, sang in a cappella choir, did a lot of musical things, was sort of a gift to me and it made
me so much better in the army. i shot a gun and played music but evidencely it worked with me. >> i believe education is one of the primary factors to success in life and the department education does have statistics to show, for example, a high school graduate, what their annual salary would be, those with a baccalaureate degree, what their salary would be, which is more, and generally the more education you have the better chance you have for success. i learned that sort of the hard way. in 1937 and '38 i was in the
civilian conservation corps, i shouldn't have been there. i was supposed to be 18, i was 16 but i lied about it because i couldn't afford to go to school. so when i was in the conservation corps i realized the importance of education. and i went to school on a scholarship. i did everything i could to increase my education. i went to school on nighttime, weekends, finally in 1957 the army sent me to the university of maryland to get a bachelor's degree in military science. then later i was sent to gorge washington university to get a master's degree in international
affairs. and i went to school day, weekends, i got another master's degree from george washington university. when'py got out of service, when i presented to particularly employees my educational background, i had -- i was fortunate and got many, many job opportunities. including an opportunity from the university of north carolina and george washington university, a member of the staff, not the faculty. i gotten a opportunity to join the railroad as the training officer. i attribute that all to the fact and i had a pretty good sound in education. i would encourage our young people today to get all the education to improve and support
education you have than opportunities you have for success and that's, as i say, the department of education has statistics to show that that's true and just very recently there was some articles in the "washington post" comparing the salaries of high school graduates to college graduates with a bs, four year degree versus those who had advanced degrees. >> thank you, colonel, we appreciate it. before we make our final remarks, i'd like to call josiah bunting, iii up. would you like to speak? >> only about 30 seconds. first of all, we have a representative of the enterprise corporation, jack taylor who was the founder of enterprise died two weeks ago at the age of 96. he was responsible for this program and many of the programs at the world war ii memorial is able to sustain so our hearts go
out to his family and we wanted to tell you. [ applause ] >> if anyone here doubts that these gentlemen are members of what should be called the greatest generation, those doubts have been erased this morning. thank you. [ applause ] >> thank you so much. [ applause ] one last comment, we know we're about to get a new president in
the coming months, it's important to remember as our leaders make decisions to send our young men and women in harm's way, to remember that it's these families who sacrificed for our freedom, it's not just numbers, it's not just location around the globe, we got to hear personal stories on how these people not only saved the united states but the world. >> can i make one comment, please? >> of course. [ laughter ] have at it. >> it's about world war ii and i want you to know the sacrifices. in world war ii, 16 million americans served in uniform. of that number, 408,316 gave their life. 408,316 out of the 16 million gave their life for our country. thank you. [ applause ] [ applause ]
>> thank you, ladies and gentleme gentlemen. you're watching american history tv. like us on facebook at c-span history. unnext on american history tv, author derek beck discusses his books "igniting the american revolution 1773 to 1775" and the war before independence, 1775 through 1776. in this hour-long talk at the tavern museum in new york city, mr. beck details both sides of the conflicts in and around boston, massachusetts, prior to the declaration